Sunday, November 09, 2014

Made for Greatness

Inside St. Peter's Basilica
Student assembly address:

My father was “old-school” when it came to discipline. We never had to sit in a corner, skip a dessert, or go to bed early. We got spanked. And he had developed the whole process into a kind of ritual, as I look back on it now. First, there was the verdict and the sentencing: “You were disrespectful of your mother and so you’re going to get a spanking.” Then there was the banishment to our bedroom. Then there was the waiting, which often took 15 to 20 minutes--that was the worst part. Then my father would walk slowly up the stairs, and by then, as a young boy, I’d be crying. Then there’d be 3 hard swats on the rear end. We’d be told to stay in our beds until he came back. We’d cry our eyes out. Ten minutes later he’d come back, hug us, tell us that he loved us, tell us to apologize to our mother, and that it was all over now.

I don’t remember all the times I was spanked, but I remember the last time. I was about 7, and it was Christmas morning. My aunt from New York always spent Christmas with us, and she was very generous, but let’s just say she didn’t give the kind of presents that 7 year old boys got too excited over—usually clothes. I remember opening up her present that Christmas, and it was a cardigan sweater. I can’t remember what I said, but it wasn’t very gracious, and I chunked it across the room with scorn.

That’s all it took. “Faustin Neff,” my father said, “go immediately to your room. You’re getting a spanking for being ungrateful and hurting your aunt’s feelings.” I don’t remember much else, except what my father told me in my bedroom just before I got my three swats: “This was your aunt’s gift to you. When you are ungrateful for someone’s gift, it’s like you’re spitting in his face.”

When we are ungrateful for someone’s gift to us, it’s like we’re spitting in his face. I was reminded of my father’s words this weekend at Church, when in the second reading, St. Paul tells us very simply:

Brothers and sisters: You are God’s building…Do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (I Corinthians 3: 9, 16)

One of God’s greatest gifts to us is our bodies—not because our bodies are perfect, not because we look like models, but because he dwells in us--because we are temples of the Holy Spirit. When we honor our bodies, when we keep them from being debased, when we act modestly and insist that people respect us, we honor the Holy Spirit living within us.

Too often, we forget that. We live in a culture where people use their bodies as a means to an end, where sex is commoditized to sell something, where people tell us that our bodies are to be used for pleasure, and nothing more. But that’s not how God made us, and it turns out, that when we disrespect ourselves, when we act loosely or crassly, we are filled with extraordinary guilt, because we know, deep down, instinctively, that we were not created for that purpose.

One of the problems we have as Christians is that Scripture becomes so familiar to us that it loses its impact. We are TEMPLES of the Holy Spirit. We are GOD’S BUILDING. Just as we wouldn’t walk into a Church or Temple and start vandalizing it, so too may we be given the strength and grace not to vandalize ourselves, remembering that the best way to respect the gift-giver is to be grateful for the gift. 

 We were made for greatness. We belong to him.